ArmInfo’s interview with Grigory Tishchenko, expert from the Russian Center for Strategic Studies
by David Stepanyan
Why do you think the sabotage attacks on the Armenian-Azeri and Karabakh-Azeri borders have become so frequent? What prevents Russia, the main mediator in the Karabakh peace process, from exerting efforts to suppress them?
Escalations on the Armenian-Azeri border are a usual thing. Some experts link them with somebody's attempts to curb progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks, others believe that this may be done by some external forces who simply seek to capitalize on high tensions in the area. Russia keeps urging the conflicting parties to stop their clashes and does its best to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But since Armenia and Azerbaijan are sovereign countries, they must do it themselves. It must have been in somebody's interest to break the "Olympic truce" on the Armenian-Azeri border and to trigger a wave of mutual blames exactly at the time Russia was holding the Olympics. It was like an ordinary provocation.
Armenia and Azerbaijan think that it is only due to their efforts that the balance of forces on the Line of Contact of the three parties to the Karabakh conflict is maintained. Do you agree with this?
Stability of the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone results from Armenia's CSTO membership and the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia. Furthermore, the conflicting parties are not interested in large- scale military actions. Status quo results also from the balance of power that is kept by Russia through its military-technical cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia's role in the status quo is not always obvious. I am sure that Moscow's unprecedented security measures on occasion of the Sochi Olympics have helped increasing stability in the region.
Would you assess the possibility of new Azeri aggression against Karabakh with due regard for the analysis of the current situation?
No large-scale conflict is anticipated in the foreseeable future, at least, because its potential participants are not interested in it. It is too risky to start large-scale military actions with unpredictable political, economic and other consequences when there is general balance of power. The situation may grow tense when NATO withdraws troops from Afghanistan in 2014 or if the U.S. launches military action against Iran. Besides, the situation may grow tense after the war in Syria, when some radical 'oppositionists' to the incumbent authorities prove jobless and 'emerge' in the region.
There is little probability of radicalizing the Karabakh conflict, but it is early to let one's guard down. Many countries, even Uzbekistan and Kyrghyzstan, were removed from Pentagon's list of dangerous countries, where U.S. officers receive additional payment for service. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is still on this list, which means that Americans consider it a dangerous state as long as there is threat of military operation in its territory or neighborhood.
Due to Armenia’s forthcoming accession to the Customs Union, military hardware supplies to Azerbaijan, strengthening of military presence in Armenia and a number of other steps, Russia has considerably strengthened its positions in the region. Will this contribute to the Karabakh conflict settlement?
Russia is only for peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. Such a stance was reflected in the statements by the OSCE Minsk Group many times. The Russian party also thinks that initiating of the machinery for prevention of conflicts is also very much important. Development of any cooperation between the parties to the conflict, their cooperation within the frames of joint projects would promote settlement of the crisis and looking for the mutually acceptable ways out of the created situation. Enhancing of Russia's positions in the region, which is for peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, will promote reaching this target.
Many countries and superpowers say that they are displeased with the status quo around Karabakh. What absolutely new situation should arise in the region to break the status quo?
The parties to the conflict were offered to make territorial swap, to determine the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, but all was in vain. The borders of the countries of the region could radically change in case of the "Arab spring" development or in case of a war against Iran. I think that fulfillment of any big international programmes, for instance, the building of transcontinental highways and railways, or of pipelines, participation in which could bring big financial and other profits, is one of the possible ways for settlement of the conflict. If the parties start cooperating within the frames of the above mentioned projects, it will be easier to them to come to any conclusion.
What for is Russia currently strengthening almost all the components of the 102nd base in Gyumri? To what extent does this meet Armenia’s interests?
The situation in the region is becoming increasingly complicated. The 'Arab spring' is embracing more and more countries and is approaching Armenia's borders. The next will most probably be Iran. The Geneva talks were just a pause for the United States as the Americans are just unable to solve the Afghani and Iranian problems at one and the same time. Iran's nuclear program is simply a pretext for them to exert pressure on that country. In the meantime, NATO will be expanding into Georgia and Azerbaijan, with Turkey to be attempting to create a triangle with those nations. The strong 102nd Russian military base is a guarantee of Armenia's security against growing external threats.
The Kremlin has already announced creation of a joint air defense system of Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. How much expedient is creation of the new system given that Russia and Armenia have already a joint air defense system?
The project to create a joint air defense system in Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will enhance Armenia's security as the country will become more efficient in detecting potential threats due to access to all radar stations in the area and preventing those threats using the means of its allies. This will also be a guarantee of security against NATO, who already has a joint air defense system and is secretly integrating it with its anti-missile forces.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have a treaty on mutual military support. Can it be considered legitimate given that Ankara will need NATO’s consent to provide military aid to Azerbaijan?
The military treaty of Turkey and Azerbaijan does not restrict Turkey's possible aid to Azerbaijan, as the NATO member-countries are free to act within the frames of bilateral agreements. For instance, France renders direct aid to the Mali Government. The actions of the NATO member-countries must not constitute any threat to the Alliance. Consequently, Turkey's actions will be assessed in the given context.
Iranian experts have repeatedly stressed the need for security cooperation with Russia in the South Caucasus. What can such cooperation be like and what can it imply following the Geneva meeting?
The window of opportunities opened in Geneva by the United States and Iran will hardly last for more than six months and may well be followed by a new conflict. The only way for the United States to remove Iran as a strong player in the region and to democratize the Greater Middle East is to change its ruling regime and/or destabilize and disintegrate that country. This will break the arc of instability running along Russia's southern border, will complicate the control oil transportation from the Middle East and Central Asia and will make senseless the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 08.08.08 events proved that any attempts to use force in order to solve security-related problems in the region are fraught with serious political and economic consequences. I think that only economic, diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives based on strong defense and security systems can ensure stability in the Caucasus. By enlarging their defense and security cooperation Russia and Armenia are strongly contributing to the region's security. So, we must not limit ourselves with bilateral contacts or ties within the Collective Security Treaty Organization but must search for new ways to enlarge our defense and security partnership. Our priority must be to prevent any military conflicts and to keep balance of forces in the region.